Changing the way we raise boys

By MERGE for Equality

MERGE for Equality, a MenCare partner in the United States, works to change the way boys are raised through its Early Childhood Initiative, which includes the one-day Developing Healthy Boys training and Children’s Book Campaign, both targeting early childhood educators and child-serving agencies.

During fall 2018, MERGE facilitated two one-day trainings for a total of 100 early childhood educators and family support professionals from Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, and a third training for 25 staff at Square One. All three trainings were held in Springfield, Massachusetts and generously sponsored by local health insurance provider, Health New England.

As shared in opening remarks by MERGE for Equality Executive Director John Engel, there is a need to change the way we raise boys in light of the current reality that:

  • All boys are born loving, caring, and sensitive;
  • The state of manhood, in the United States and globally, demonstrates that men are both hurting and causing much harm;
  • And, collectively, we can change the way we socialize boys, to impact the men they become.

The training included small and large group activities and discussions aimed at unpacking harmful masculine norms and male socialization practices by:

  • Raising awareness about gender norms and stereotypes that limit boys, and the men they become, from realizing their full potential;
  • Examining the cycle of male socialization, including violence and trauma, as conditions from which boys – starting from a young age – are taught what it means “to be a man”;
  • Exploring racism and ways racism and gender socialization intersect to harm boys and the men they will become, as well as women, families, and communities.

The training also included a focus on early childhood literature and the use of children’s books to promote healthy masculinity and gender equality.

Weaving together lessons about male socialization and early childhood literature, participants engaged in small and large group activities using three books from the MERGE for Equality Children’s Book Campaign. Each participant received a copy of the following titles:

  • Be Boy Buzz, authored by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka
  • Sparkle Boy, authored by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Maria Mola
  • Drum Dream Girl, authored by Margarita Engel and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Book campaign activities included:

  • Small group reading, listening, and observation activities with each of the three books;
  • Discussions about practical uses of the books with young children, including anticipated challenges and strategies for success; and
  • Use of the Discussion Guides, which are available online here.

Post-training activities include:

  • 90-minute group coaching sessions where training participants can connect with each other and MERGE staff to glean lessons and address both successes and challenges in the work of developing healthy boys;
  • Discussion Guides to assist participants in using the books from MERGE’s book campaign in their classrooms and with parents;
  • Additional tools and resources on the MERGE for Equality website.

Together, we can develop socially and emotionally connected boys today – and healthy men, families, and communities tomorrow.

Learn more about the MERGE for Equality Early Childhood Initiative and Children’s Book Campaign at